You’ve likely heard about all the different ways that having a baby will affect your body, but it’s not all bad! Read on to discover how having children affects your health.
1. Your weight
It’s common for women to weigh more after having kids, which is why it may be worth keeping some of your maternity outfits, at least for the first couple of months postpartum. That said, having a baby doesn’t itself make you gain weight. While most women gain weight after having kids, the extra pounds come from age rather than pregnancy.
A study conducted by researchers at the University of Alabama found that women without children gain 6-13 pounds over a period of 5 years, whereas those who had a first child put on 10-19 pounds over the same period. Similarly, a study by the CDC found that the average adult woman gained 8-10 pounds during a 10 year period, but only 3 of those pounds could be chalked up to pregnancy.
2. Vaginal changes
It’s common for women to experience vaginal changes postpartum. While the vagina typically contracts down to almost its original size after you give birth, most women tend to have a permanently wider vagina due to the pelvic floor muscles in the area getting stretched out. This change can be more pronounced based on several factors, such as the number of babies you’ve already delivered, how large the baby is, genetic factors, and any complications during delivery.
3. Your periods
Women often report that their menstrual cramps vanish or diminish after pregnancy. This may be due to the uterus getting stretched out or because pregnancy supposedly decreases the number of receptor sites for prostaglandins, which are the cramp-triggering chemicals. If you previously suffered from endometriosis, pregnancy can clear up many of the lesions that occur due to the condition, keeping it at bay at least for a while.
4. Your bladder
Labor and delivery puts your body at an increased risk for incontinence (the loss of bladder control) due to the weakening of the pelvic muscles, including the muscles that control the urethral sphincter. Many women gain back their bladder control after a year or so. For some mothers, incontinence is an ongoing problem that causes tiny amounts of urine to leak under activities such as sneezing, jogging, laughing, and even orgasm. It may help to practice Kegel exercises to strengthen the pelvic floor muscles.
5. Your breasts
Your breasts go through some significant changes during and after pregnancy. They initially get bigger, because the dormant fat tissue is replaced by functional tissue in preparation for breastfeeding. However, this doesn’t last - when you stop breastfeeding, the functional tissue atrophies because it’s no longer in use. If you get pregnant again, then this process will repeat. It’s worth noting that if you gain a lot of weight after your pregnancy, then the fat cells in your breasts will be replaced. However, if you don’t gain weight, then your breasts will stay smaller.
It’s also common for breasts to sag after pregnancy due to the breast skin being stretched and failing to return to its previous tightness. That said, breastfeeding is unlikely to make breast sagging worse.
6. Your hair
Many women notice that the hair on their head is denser and lusher during pregnancy. This change can be attributed to higher levels of the hormone estrogen, which prolongs the growth phase, resulting in less hair shedding and thicker tresses.
After hormone levels return to normal after pregnancy, you may experience hair loss. This is a temporary and usually resolves by about 12-18 months.
7. Your skin
Stretch marks are tiny bands of scar tissue that result from skin stretching too far or too quickly. Like with all scars, stretch marks may fade with time, but they don’t completely disappear. They usually appear on the abdomen and breasts.
It’s also common to experience darkened areas of skin during pregnancy. You may develop melasma, otherwise known as the “mask of pregnancy”, which are brown patches that color the cheeks and upper lip. Moles and freckles can also darken during pregnancy. Another skin change associated with pregnancy is the linea nigra (Latin for “black line”). This is a dark, vertical line that runs over the bump to the pubic hair region.
8. Your feet
Many women report having feet that are permanently wider, longer, and flatter after delivery. This change is likely due to a combination of the hormone relaxin produced during pregnancy that relaxes ligaments in the feet and ankles, anf the extra burden of weight that feet are subjected to.
9. Varicose veins and hemorrhoids
You may notice swollen, sore, and bluish veins - known as varicose veins - on your legs, as well as on the vulva. When these veins occur on the rectum, they’re known as hemorrhoids. Hemorrhoids and varicose veins typically develop because the pressure the uterus exerts as it expands can disrupt blood flow from the lower part of the body. Additionally, the weakening of the blood vessels’ lining can encourage the development of these conditions.
Hemorrhoids and varicose veins usually go away within 6-12 months after delivery. However, the more pregnancies you carry, the longer they’ll take to fade. To prevent varicose veins from worsening in pregnancy, avoid sitting with your legs crossed for prolonged periods, exercise regularly, and eat high-fiber foods and drink plenty of water to reduce the risk of constipation.
10. Your hips
One of the main storage sites for lactation-supporting fat is the hips, which is why it’s common for them to widen after pregnancy. This is especially true if you don’t return to your original pre-pregnancy weight.
11. Your teeth
A study published in the American Journal of Public Health found that the more kids women had, the more likely they were to have lost teeth. Other dental issues women might face include bleeding from gums and wearing away of the enamel. Hormone fluctuation during pregnancy can also increase the bacteria population in the mouth, which is why it’s all the more important to practice good dental hygiene during this period. If good dental health is not observed, problems can persist postpartum.
Motherhood comes with a wide variety of changes, and while many of them disappear soon after you have your little one, a couple of them, like bigger feet, are for keeps.